December 28, 2003 - Charleston Sunday Gazette: Christmas in Uganda, Between seminars, Peace Corps volunteer saac Wohl entertains thoughts of home

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Uganda: Peace Corps Uganda : The Peace Corps in Uganda: December 28, 2003 - Charleston Sunday Gazette: Christmas in Uganda, Between seminars, Peace Corps volunteer saac Wohl entertains thoughts of home

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Wednesday, December 31, 2003 - 10:40 am: Edit Post

Christmas in Uganda, Between seminars, Peace Corps volunteer saac Wohl entertains thoughts of home

Christmas in Uganda, Between seminars, Peace Corps volunteer saac Wohl entertains thoughts of home

Christmas in Uganda: Between seminars, Peace Corps volunteer entertains thoughts of home

So you can’t escape Christmas songs even in Uganda.

The radio stations spew jingles like infectious diseases, and flashing lights are obscurely rigged to huff “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” over and over until you snap. Come on, man, you can’t find a reindeer for 1,000 miles in any direction.

It’s all the more terrifying since we’re entering the dry season, the sun baking roads into dust clouds. In the big grocery store in Kampala they even have a 4-foot-tall plastic Santa who writhes in time, animatronic and vaguely pornographic, to a tinny version of “Jingle Bell Rock.”

I confronted the monstrosity, standing a few inches away, staring it down. Leathery expatriates and embassy wives stopped and stared at me. They laughed nervously and seemed a little frightened at what I might do. My body language was all confrontation.

After a couple of minutes, Santa twisting away and not meeting my eyes, I jutted my chin — what’s up now, you villainous pimp! — and walked away. Me: 1; Santa 0, although the rules of engagement are still unclear.

Work has been going well lately. Before the school term ended, I had been giving workshops on project design and management to every district in the county, with increasing reluctance. The seminar, under the skin of it, is about speaking in languages that nongovernmental entities want to hear (“sustainability,” “monitoring and evaluation,” “capacity-building”), hence becoming better candidates for donations.

I’m more than a little cynical about this; I want these guys (my neighbors, my villagers) to get every dime they can from donor agencies. The agencies occasionally mean well, but they’re foreigners, like me, coming into a routinely corrupt country (it’s lighter and more subtle than the image you get from “corruption”) with unthinkable quantities of money, and the nationals with the vocabulary will get the cash.

But I hate the thought of leaving here with my primary accomplishment having been teaching more sophisticated ways to ask for money. After the term ended, though, things quieted down a bit, and I was able to get back to the more pleasant and rural parents’ meetings at the primary schools.

These are fun, even though my Ateso — the local tongue — isn’t strong enough to where I don’t need a translator, and when they translate everything you say it makes for a long meeting.

I went to Obwanai (the one school in my catchment area with a headmistress — she rules) and told the parents that next term the school was going to be teaching a fairly explicit reproductive health and HIV education program. It’s a government initiative that we’re trying to implement district-wide.

I told them that they needed to put aside whatever prejudice they might have about sex education and support the school in their efforts. The parents filled the room, and they seemed to be listening and appreciating what I was saying. It was an awesome feeling. (Though, for all I know, it was translated as “The white man likes pineapples.”)

Tomorrow night has me drinking ajon, the hot, fermented, millet-based beverage you consume through hollow stick-straws from a communal pot, with my neighbor and counterpart, Justin. Let me be honest: I’m missing home. It’s the first Christmas in a while that I haven’t spent in Charleston.

I always looked forward to the holidays, hanging out in Marshall’s basement with the sudden influx of people from George Washington High School and other infrequent faces, my fellow students and travelers and freaks drifting back into town with reports on the crazy new things they’d been experiencing and the crazy new people they were becoming.

All the maniacs, sheepish at the comfort we got from coming back to the city, and new combinations and possibilities between us, our rough new edges, and it feeling like a community of young people. Sure, I’m sentimentalizing. Why not? It’s nice.

Dry season brings grasshoppers. In the slums of Kampala they have a small parking lot-sized enclosure surrounded by corrugated tin; there are four huge bright towers of fluorescent light in the lot. At night they turn on the lights and grasshoppers swarm there in the hundreds of thousands. They think it’s the moon, to which they’re deeply and inexplicably attracted. They fly chaotically, huge squirming currents, and when exhausted they drop to the compound, where they’re collected, fried, sold in little bags, and eaten.

They’re not bad, actually, and they’re a good protein source. But people (mostly kids) crowd around the wall of the lot, snatching at the air, and shoving caught grasshoppers into hungry mouths. The wings stick to their lips.

Happy holidays, y’all. Be good to one another.

Isaac Wohl is a 1997 graduate of Capital High School and a native of Charleston. He graduated from Grinnell College in 2001 and has been working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kachango, Uganda, since March 2003. He is scheduled to return to the United States in June 2005. He is the son of David Wohl, dean of arts and humanities at West Virginia State College, and Diana Bowman of Greensboro, N.C.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Charleston Sunday Gazette

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Uganda; PCVs in the Field - Uganda



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.